Gen. Petraeus on the VA’s obligation to the burn pit veterans
Tens of thousands of veterans are of the opinion that their health is affected by the polluting smoke from burn pits at their bases.
EXCLUSIVE – Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was instrumental in assisting the AMERICAN forces during the War in Iraq, says that America’s service members must be receiving assistance for the installation of the medical problems which they fear as a result of exposure to burn pits while stationed at the military bases.
Petraeus, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command and the Multi-National Force-Iraq, said that it is time for the service members exposed to the dangers of fire pits — and they say that they have been abandoned by the Veterans Affairs Department and Washington – are provided with the proper care.
“It is a sacred duty,” Petraeus, a retired four-star general, told Fox News during an exclusive interview in his Manhattan office. “And by and large, our country has an extraordinary amount for our veterans and for those working in uniform, and for their families.”
“But comparing what our VA is doing to a different country to the care of veterans…this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard you can always improve it, without question. This is a problem, but where we have a sacred duty, and we need to meet that obligation.”
The haphazard method of getting rid of waste, chemicals and even medical waste — in the open-air burn pits — during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generated a range of pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and dioxin — the same chemical found in Agent Orange, the dangerous defoliant used during the Vietnam War between 1961 and 1971.
The burn pits were used for the removal of all types of waste, including highly toxic chemical substances and compounds.
(Courtesy of Dan Brewer)
As early as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, burn pits were used on AMERICAN military bases in Iraq. At the height of the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops were stationed, and there is potentially exposed to the smoke and fumes from burn pits. Estimates indicate that the number of burn pits around that time on 63.
Thousands of veterans and ex-contractors back from the Middle East have developed, cancer, diseases of the respiratory tract and the blood, disorders of what they claim is their exposure to toxins from the flaming pits. More than 140,000 active-service members and pensioners have their names on a Burn Pit Registry was created by the Veterans Administration.
Petraeus offered an explanation to the question about why the burn pits were used on military bases, to admit that the reality of the war continued to be the concern about how to get rid of waste is a low priority at that time.
“At that time we were not worried about the burn pits. We were concerned about getting enough water for our troops in the hot summer,” he says. “We were looking to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, unlike MREs, etc.”
“This is a problem, but where we have a sacred duty, and we need to meet that obligation.”
– General David Petraeus
The general explained how the reconstruction of Iraq, the infrastructure and the troop surge in 2007 were the main priorities at that time, but that the potential danger of burn pits was not to be denied.
“They have clearly fought us back. But after a period of time, in that tour, in particular, note other issues,” Petraeus said. “So, yes, there is serious fighting going on. But you will notice that there is a huge burn pit that is up-wind of us. So it is blowing on this huge base, Camp Victory, where we had 25,000 or more soldiers on the basis stationed.”
“We had a number of other locations, again, where we had these burn pits. And you see it more and more. And I got more and more involved in that time — I mean, it was something I’d noticed previously,” he said. “But now I realize that all these soldiers who, on really bad days, the breathe of whatever it is that is burned in these pits.”
Petraeus called during the sit-down requests to install incinerators were created during the time of the increase, followed when he moved to the Central Command, but that presented problems of its own.
“Well, it was something that had to be done for a long period of time,” he said of burn-pit disposal. “But at a certain point, that maybe there is a better way to do it.”
During the hour-long interview, General David Petraeus said that more needs to be done to help veterans who claim that they have gotten ill from burn pit exposure.
“Incinerators were actually brought in some cases. And then there were the problems just to the incinerators work. Unfortunately, sometimes it was easier just to put it in a hole and burn it.”
Petraeus points out that our troops at that time was in what he calls a “survival stage” and many options do not yet exist to get rid of the huge amounts of waste on our military operations.
“You need to do something with that. And now it is much further than just human waste,” he says. “It is also for all the by-products of just daily life. And much of that is dumped in a hole in the ground, and gasoline, or whatever it is, — are deposited on it, and someone — torches. And it is the way of disposing of what otherwise can not be buried.”
The general acknowledged that this crude method had remained for a long time and that as the bases grew in certain areas, burn pits also grown significantly.
“The results of this huge plume of black smoke, and so on was very, very striking,” Petraeus recalled. “[W]hen the wind blew and the fires of the pit was in use at a number of these different policies.”
“Needless to say, would you try to convert so that the wind would not blow. But the wind range. And they have changed. And there was never a perfect method.”
From 2013, Petraeus with the global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts [KKR], where he acts as chairman of their KKR Global Institute. He has also thrown its support behind the efforts in Washington to bring reform of the complicated process that many veterans go through when they file a claim through the Veterans Administration.
In July, Petraeus, in a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to consider the support of the Burn Pits Accountability Act – a recent bill submitted to Capitol Hill by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Brian Mast, R-Fla.
General Petraeus also stated concern after seeing pictures earlier this summer on Camp Taji, Iraq, where burn pits were in use as recently as June.
“I know that you share the sense of obligation that virtually all Americans have to those who stepped forward in a time of war,” he wrote in the open letter.
During the steps in the direction of the reform are underway, there is still reason for concern for our troops who are currently in Iraq.
A recent report from Fox News shows that burn pits are still used in at least one military base in Iraq.
In a series of images obtained exclusively by Fox News, a burn pit in the vicinity of Camp Taji, Iraq, is seen spewing thick clouds of black smoke into the air on an almost daily basis. According to a soldier stationed at the base, the pits are set ablaze, as much as five times per week. The photos were taken on and around June 3.
The pits, to see in the photos that was originally recorded, are located in a part of the Camp Taji known as an “orange zone” — an area, adjacent to the U.S. Military operations where the Iraqi National Forces operate. The soldier told Fox News that while the unit is a part of the camp is not with the burn pits trash removal, it is not clear exactly where their trash ends up.
When asked about his thoughts about the burn still so close to where AMERICAN troops are stationed, General Petraeus expressed trepidation at seeing photos of the wells used in Taji the orange zone.
“It’s actually the Iraqis who are with that now. But that is still a point of concern for us. And it needs to be,” he says. “I think that if the time is over that we realize that this is a bigger issue than it is clear that in the earlier years of these two wars.”
“And with that awareness, we can certainly do better.”
Fox News Correspondent Lea Gabrielle, a former us Navy F/A-18C pilot and clandestine human intelligence operates. You can follow her on Twitter @LeaFOXNews